[This post is also published on my blog related to creating a DH project.]

When I attended the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, my instructors suggested that one of the most important ways to influence the conversation about my topic was to update the Wikipedia entry on Julia Pastrana. Makes sense since so many people begin with and/or consult Wikipedia when they research.

Today, I finally updated the Pastrana bio and, although it isn’t perfect yet, I tried to shift the entry so that it reflects a concern with her as a human being. In order to do that, I added information about her life, shifted paragraphs so that the medical/scientific discussions come later, and made that part of the entry its own section.

One last thing I did was add a reference to the best article I know of about Pastrana. In his BuzzFeed article, Tim Stelloh presents a story that reflects actual research, not just recycled stories that haven’t been documented.

It felt good to have a tangible result since I’m still doing so much of the preliminary work on my Omeka project.

Databases and Challenges

[This post is also on my blog focused on creating a DH project]

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on establishing a chronology for Pastrana’s travels in both North America and Europe for a Neatline component to my project. The easiest part of this effort has been (by far) her travels in the United States. I’ve been able to find many digitization projects that are searchable, including Chronicling America: Historic American NewspapersFulton History, and the list of newspapers with links set up by Google (note: I’m specifically listing sites that are free, though I’ve also been using databases I have access to through my university library). I’ve also had some luck finding important articles in Mexican newspapers through HNDM (Hemeroteca Nacional Digital de México) and Austrian newspapers thanks to the ANNO: Austrian Newspapers Online website.

It’s not a surprise that I’ve found it easy to work with databases in English and Spanish (which I’ve studied but am not fluent in), but it was quite surprising that ANNO was so easy to use. I especially like how this website allows one to create OCR (Optical Character Recognition) transcriptions and Google translations of articles. I still need help with better translations of the German, but I’m in contact with someone who I hope will work on at least a few of the more important articles.

Now for the challenges. I’ve been able to track down digitized newspapers from Estonia, Germany, Poland and Russia (mostly through a list of newspapers on Google)–and I very much need to establish a chronology in these countries. Unfortunately, 1) these databases don’t yet have the ability to do keyword searches (in other words, I’d have to look at each issue individually) 2) since I don’t speak/read these languages, it’s really difficult to know what to look for.

So . . . although I have about 260 dates related to Pastrana’s performances, my data on the last year or so of her life is really spotty. I began this project thinking that I would just work on the United States, so I may have to return to that idea until I can find a work around for the challenges associated with language.

Julia Pastrana Online

Julia Pastrana (1834-1860) once performed in the U.S. and all over Europe. An indigenous woman from Mexico, Pastrana spoke several languages, danced, and sang. In spite of these accomplishments, the majority of people came to see her because of her physical appearance. Her body was covered with hair and she suffered from hypertrichosis. She was sometimes advertised as “The Bear Woman” or “The Ugliest Woman in the World.” Nevertheless, frequently those who saw her perform described her amiability and intelligence. Pastrana also had a life kept secret from her audience. Although she sang songs about wanting to be loved and fearing that she would always be alone, secretly Pastrana was married to her manager, Theodore Lent. She became pregnant with their son but died during childbirth. Sadly, her son died as well.

Much of the interest in Pastrana stems from what happened after her death. Pastrana’s husband had her body and that of their son embalmed and stuffed. Their bodies continued to be displayed into the 1970’s. After being stored in a basement of a hospital in Oslo, Norway, her body was finally returned to her homeland, Sinaloa Mexico, due to the efforts of artist Laura Anderson Barbata. Pastrana was buried February 12, 2013.

Over the 156 years since Pastrana’s death, academics, writers, doctors, playwrights, musicians, artists, and fans have written about and created art in her memory. Pastrana’s story has inspired the sympathy and interest of many. However, I have several concerns about work devoted to Pastrana. First, some projects focused on her appearance and/or the fate of her corpse rather than engaging with Pastrana as a human being. It seemed to me that this obsession with her body perpetuated a commodification of Pastrana. Second, I found that too often sources about Pastrana recycled the same misinformation about her life that originally came from a promotional brochure (note: there are some exceptions to this which I’ll write about in future posts). I began to wonder what documents could be uncovered relating to her life.

Over the years, I’ve been researching Pastrana’s life and am currently in the process of creating an online database to share what can be documented. My hope is that other scholars and people who are interested in Pastrana will use these documents to create work that honors Pastrana’s extraordinary life. The website where you can find these documents is called “Julia Pastrana Online.” I’ll be adding to this site regularly over the next six months.

I’ll also be blogging about my process, decision making, challenges, and problem solving as I create the database. Because digital humanities (DH) is a new initiative at my university, I’ll be writing here about how I’ve created a digital repository in hopes that other faculty and Fresno State students will be inspired to get started on their own projects.

My SJVWP Story

Sometimes transformations come from very small actions. Accepting Faith Nitschke’s invitation to be an SJVWP Fellow during the summer of 2006 was one of those kinds of decisions.

I was always learning as a teacher, so I knew that the Summer Institute would be a learning experience. What I didn’t anticipate was that it would transform me, not just as a teacher but as a human being. Before the Summer Institute, I felt like teaching was a solitary profession in some ways. Yes, my students were in class with me and in that way my teaching was public and social–but as a profession, as in a shared practice with other teachers, there was something that felt invisible and solitary to me. That’s not to say I didn’t talk about teaching with my colleagues–I definitely did–but they rarely saw me in action . . . and when they did, I had prepared to the nines. They never saw me fail, they never saw me on my most ordinary days.

In the Summer Institute, I had to make myself vulnerable. I had to write–and then share that writing with others. I had to design a teaching demonstration lesson and then listen to the immediate feedback of others. I had to allow myself to be vulnerable, to be seen, noticed, appreciated, and critiqued. I’m a rule follower in some ways, though, so I complied with the expectations of sharing.

I don’t think I realized it at the time. In fact, I’m not sure if I really understood this until I sat down to write this blog post–but allowing myself to be vulnerable was one aspect of my Writing Project participation that changed me as a human being. It started a process of being more open with others. I gained teacher friends and colleagues that I trusted.

Right now, I’m sitting at a table with Marci Haas and Kristie Leyba. Marci and I went through the Summer Institute together–and over the years, she has become someone I trust implicitly. I know that I can rely on her to follow through on commitments–and that she will be thoughtful and smart about them. She’s also someone that I know I can ask for help (something that can be really difficult for me). The same with Kristie. When we work together on projects, she asks me questions that make me examine ideas/practices that have gone unchallenged for too long. She is honest and funny and smart. My life is richer because of these two women (and the many others who are not at my table).

My SJVWP story is like so many others. The Writing Project transforms people, it creates community and bonds of trust. I take risks with my SJVWP colleagues–and, as a result, I grow.


I knew that there was no way that I’d be able to keep up on the #reflectiveteacher challenge this month. Although I’m glad that the challenge inspired me to write a few blog posts this month, my most recent posts are basically ways to complete the challenge without really “doing” it. If you want to see the real deal, check out my friend Meta’s blog. She has dug deep for each blog post–I really admire how she’s stuck to this challenge all month and reflected in such meaningful ways.

So now, just to complete the challenge, here’s another catch up post.

Day 22: my PLN grew exponentially once I became involved in the San Joaquin Valley Writing Project. I’ve learned so much from my associations with other NWP folks, both in face-to-face interactions and online. I appreciate checking into Twitter every so often to see what links people are posting–and I share these regularly on the Writing Teacher Facebook page. NWP people are some of the smartest teachers I know and I feel so fortunate to be involved in this organization.

Day 23: Not sure if this counts, but my work with SJVWP allows me to share very specific examples of teaching with my pre-service students. That’s one way I bring the community into my classroom. I also love that my job has very tangible results as the students I teach go out into the community and teach others.

Day 24: I’m really intrigued by digital writing. I’ve been in meetings where people have commented that digital writing is the “same” as other kinds of writing. I don’t think this is true, but I’m constantly trying to understand how/why it’s not true. The work of James Gee and Howard Rheingold helps me understand that digital writing has the potential to be collaborative, reach a larger audience, move readers out (through links) rather than forward. I think these characteristics constitute difference in writing.

Day 25: The ideal collaboration between students would reflect what I just described about digital writing. When I’ve asked students to collaborate on wikis or google sites, I’ve seen these kinds of things happen. Students take responsibility, they share information, they learn from each other, and they create richer writing because of their collaboration.

Day 26: My go-to sites for help with teaching are Twitter, twitter, and twitter. I can’t think of a single site that comes even close to the ways that Twitter helps my teaching grow.

Day 27: In the past, weekends were the times that I got caught up on things like grading and the like. This semester, I’m working hard to also have the weekends be times for me to recharge emotionally. I’ve realized that being a workaholic sometimes takes the joy out of my teaching–so I need to have time to relax, hang out with friends, read for pleasure, hike, and recharge!

Day 28: I think that neither technology nor curriculum should drive our teaching. Instead, we need to look to our students: what they’re good at, what they need, what interests them, how they learn best. Those are the things that should come into play in our planning. Technology is a tool for learning. Curriculum is the method/activities we use to foster learning.

Day 29: When I first started teaching, I came from a very authoritarian stance. It’s what I knew and what I relied on since I had so little experience. Over the years, I’ve learned that students respond better to teachers that they feel care about them. I suppose that I’ve also come to understand that my “authority” comes from my knowledge and expertise. Period.

Day 30: Hmm . . . what would I do as a teacher if I weren’t afraid? I guess I’d throw out the syllabus and build a course with students. I’d try a more maker approach to teaching than what I do now.

That’s it. I’ve “finished” the challenge. Definitely not in the spirit of the challenge, but as much as I could do given the busy nature of my teaching life and the intellectual space taken by the competing demands of my job.

Reflective Teacher (Still)

More reflection, more catching up, more getting ahead on the #reflectiveteacher blogging challenge.

Day 16: if I could have a teaching superpower, I think I’d want the teaching version of x-ray glasses–in that I could see what each of my students needed in order to learn. With some students, it’s easy to know how to give feedback, respond, and guide learning. But sometimes student learning styles are so unique, that I’m not sure how to best facilitate learning. That’s when I wish I had the superpower of seeing exactly what activities, strategies, and/or feedback would help.

Day 17: I think the most challenging issue in education today is the increasing influence of corporate thinking. Schools are not businesses. Teaching is an art, not a job. Treating schools and teachers in ways influenced by how corporations are run damages the profession. For the last decade, I’ve seen too many ways that teachers are demonized when in reality most teachers I know care about kids and work hard to be good teachers. I’d love to see more respect for teacher expertise and professionalism.

Day 18: hmm . . . an analogy for teaching. Teaching is like . . . trying to solve a rubik’s cube. You see the colors, you know it’s possible to get them all to line up, but it takes a lot of trial and error, effort, and time to help students move to where they need to be. The teachers who can do that are superstars.

Day 19: three ways that students can reflect on their learning. 1) The author’s note that students write when they hand in a draft of their writing 2) the freewrite I ask students to do when we’ve had a wide-ranging discussion and I want to help students bring it all together into a cohesive interpretation 3) final questions that ask students to articulate a deep understanding of course content. Note that I specifically chose methods that involve writing since I believe that writing is a powerful medium for reflection.

Day 20: helping students to curate work. I ask students to create wikis or google sites in which they include their best work (or the work that demonstrates best what they’ve learned).

Day 21: hobbies and interests I bring into the classroom. I definitely bring T.V., contemporary music, and art into the classroom when appropriate. I think in English where our focus is so much on the “word,” it’s important that we use the visual and auditory to complement what we do. I also think that using music, art, and media helps students make connections between the text and their everyday lives.

Narrative Brainstorming

Last semester in my literacy studies class, I asked my students to create literacy autobiographies using Glogster. This semester I’m having students in my writing from children’s literature class write a literacy autobiography, but I decided to have them brainstorm in four ways.

  • First, they created a literacy lifeline–to help them think about their literacy development. I used dipity to create my lifeline and to give them a model. I really liked this application and will definitely use it again.
  • Second, I asked them to do a six word story to get at the problem/trouble/conflict they thought would be at the heart of their narrative. Some of them had felt overwhelmed by how big the project was so they really liked trying to reduce it into just a few words.
  • Third, I asked students to create a Glogster that included at least 6 moments related to their central problem. They also shared their Glogsters with each other, and I think seeing the work others had done was helpful in thinking through their own literacy development.
  • Fourth, I had students do a looping exercise to help them focus. I hadn’t intended to do the looping, but when many of them said they were still having trouble getting to the heart of their development, I decided that looping would help.

By the end of class Wednesday, my students seemed to feel comfortable about the fact that they needed to produce a rough draft in a week. Here’s hoping that all is going well with their writing.

And here are their literacy autobiographies:

Johana Alcala

Maria Bedolla

Natalie Buttles

Marcella Ceballos

Lindsay Deathriage

Guillermo Dominguez

Odila Escobar

Yolanda Foster

Nicolette Franco

Azucena Gonzalez

Veronica Hinman

Marisela Lemus

Meghan Mize

Chloe Morrow

Marina Nuno

Miranda Prins

Lorena Robles

Andres Rojas

Audra Salas

Taylor Sasso

Lucia Valdez

Lynsie Wooten

Emiley Yaugher

Catch Up #2

At the farmer’s market this morning, I ran into my friend Meta who is also doing the #reflectiveteacher blog challenge. She has been so dedicated to blogging every day this month–and she’s written deeply personal and highly reflective posts. She’s a model for what I should be doing in this challenge. But, alas, all you get from me is another brief catch up post. If you want the real deal, go to Meta’s blog!

Day 11: My favorite part of the school day. I guess since I already blogged about how much I love the moment when students understand something that they’ve been struggling with, I’ll choose a different moment of the day. I love when I wake up early to read the texts that my students will be discussing: the quiet, the darkness outside my window, and just me and the text. I’m a reader, through and through. I love books and I love being transported into new intellectual, emotional, or geographic spaces.

Day 12: Teaching changes over the next 5 years. I would guess that I’ll continue to incorporate 21st century literacies into my classroom throughout the rest of my career. I’ll definitely continue my work in teaching with technology–I also hope I’ll learn more about digital humanities.

Day 13: Top edtech tools. 1) Visual tools like Glogster, Dipity, and anything that gives students the opportunity to represent their thinking more visually. 2) Collaboration tools like wikis which allow students to work together remotely. 3) Curation tools like Google Sites in which students showcase their learning in a portfolio (linking to Glogsters or podcasts they’ve made, for example, in addition to uploading essays and the like).

And now I’m going to work ahead a bit.

Day 14: Feedback for learning (I’ve tweaked their prompt a bit). The best practice I’ve adopted in recent years is typing out my feedback in a document and saving it to my computer–in addition to sending it to students. This has allowed me to refer back to what I’ve suggested students work on and follow up with them when they submit new work. It’s also allowed me to write stronger recommendation letters since I have so much of my response saved.

Day 15: Three strengths I have as an educator 1) I ask students to reflect frequently; I build this into my class 2) I know my students by name and try to make connections with each one of them 3) I take risks in trying out new things which helps students see the work I do to stay current.


Playing Catch Up

I’ve missed the last few days of the #reflectiveteacher blogging challenge, so here are very brief responses to the prompts.

Day 7: most inspirational colleague. I’ve been so fortunate to work with Rick Hansen, a generous colleague who has taught me so much about the teaching of writing. Conversations with Rick have helped me integrate all the pieces of writing instruction that I had learned over the years to create a more cohesive, overarching philosophy for teaching.

Day 8: what’s in my desk drawer and what does that say about me. My desk drawers are a mess. I rarely even look at them. What’s more important are the papers on my desk and throughout my house. I guess the contents of my desk drawer illustrate how busy I am and the essential role of thinking/planning in my life. I can’t put that away and close the drawer. Work is always on my mind.

Day 9: biggest accomplishment in teaching that no one knows about. I’m really proud that I’m willing to take risks in my teaching. Sometimes I ask to teach a class because I want to know more about the topic. Sometimes I plan assignments because I want to learn about how they work with students. I always update my syllabi, even if I’ve just taught the class. I reflect and try new things–and that keeps me always interested in teaching and always on the edge of failure. I think the willingness to take risks translates to a willingness to fail–and we all learn as much if not more by failing as we do when we succeed.

Day 10: Stay with me on this one

Five random facts:

  • I love alternative music (modern rock, indie, whatever you want to call it.
  • I’ve lived in three countries, the USA, Norway, and Portugal–and I love to travel.
  • I’m obsessed with cookbooks, but I don’t cook very often.
  • I love reading Scandinavian crime fiction.
  • I’ve dogsledded in the Arctic, near the North Pole.

Four things from my bucket list:

  • I want to go to Iceland.
  • I want to see the Northern Lights.
  • I’d like to live abroad again.
  • I’d like to have dinner at Noma in Copenhagen, considered the best restaurant in the world.

Three things I hope for this year, personal or professional:

  • I hope to find the missing information in my research on Julia Pastrana on my trip to Annapolis this year.
  • I hope to spend a month abroad next summer.
  • I hope to deepen my knowledge about connected learning/digital humanities/teaching with technology this year

Two things that made me laugh/cry as an educator:

  • I laugh about some of the crazy things I say to surprise my students (like how I’m James Gee’s fangirl).
  • I cry (or feel deeply) about how my work has such tangible results–that I’m able to see how my work has influenced local teachers.

One thing I wish more people knew about me:

  • I have a hard time asking for help, so I appreciate it when people offer.


This prompt from #te@achthought asks that we blog about what a good mentor does. Since I work with so many student teachers, I think I’ll discuss what a good master teacher does.

First and foremost, the master teacher needs to create a safe environment for the student teacher, a place where the student teacher can learn, make mistakes, try out new ideas, and otherwise explore him/herself as a teacher. The master teacher (MT) should be really thoughtful about which classes s/he gives to a student teacher–and the MT should intervene with students (appropriately) especially at the beginning. But the MT should also understand that the student teacher shouldn’t just be an exact copy of the MT–an ideal placement is one where the student teacher fashions a unique sense of who they are as a teacher.

A good master teacher functions as a sounding board in addition to being a more experienced professional. The MT should share teaching materials, but also take the opportunity to make visible the thinking necessary to design curriculum. The MT’s role is to foster independence in the student teacher (ST), so the MT should model, discuss, give feedback, support, and coach the ST.

The coaching role is really important. The MT should observe the ST regularly and make time to give feedback. Sometimes these feedback sessions should be more about asking questions and then being a sounding board as the ST works his/her way to an answer. Sometimes the session should include direct suggestions for teaching. Sometimes the session should be an open invitation to discuss whatever the ST wants to bring up. But the MT should never, ever make the ST feel that spending time talking about teaching is an imposition.

Being a master teacher requires empathy, intelligence, strength, and generosity. The most important thing a MT should do is know when to get out of the way. There’s no place for ego in the MT/ST relationship. At some point, the ST needs to go it alone and the MT needs to understand how to help the ST do just that.

I am so grateful to the excellent master teachers who work with our students at Fresno State. In writing this blog post, I thought about what you have done with our students and how you have helped them become strong teachers.